Fertilizer from wood-waste ashes is spreading

Farmers have been offered a possibly steady, but highly unusual, supply of fertilizer -- ashes from wood waste. It is being used in northern New England and may become available in this area later.

The Georgia-Pacific Corporation paper mill in Gilman, Vt., once Vermont's largest user of industrial fuel oil, has switched from oil in order to reduce the cost of operating the mill's power plant. At the same time, the plant has become a customer for the wood waste produced by some 40 small wood products manufacturers in the area. This helps the small plants reduce their costs.

Farms in Vermont, and a few in nearby New Hampshire, are receiving deliveries of wood ashes from the plant for use as a substitute fertilizer for field corn, a crop that requires heavy fertilization and is used chiefly for cattle feed.

The project was proposed to Georgia-Pacific by a Gilman resident, Glenn Moore , who also took his idea to the Essex County (Vt.) office of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, US Department of Agriculture.

As a result, the USDA office is encouraging the experimental use of wood ashes on local Vermont farms with a 50 percent subsidy for each ton of ashes used.

The economic value of the ashes hangs on a record demand for fertilizer, now approaching 60 million tons a year. Prices have been rising. Moreover, petrochemical raw materials, such as natural gas, are in a tight squeeze. In Oregon the Reichhold Chemical Corporation has spent large sums to finance a five-year search for natural gas. The exploration was successful last May when Oregon gas was found to provide the feedstock for its major fertilizer plant here on the Columbia River.

Georgia-Pacific, with plants in many other areas of the United States, is looking into the possibility of using ashes as fertilizer elsewhere, particularly in California and Oregon, where other plants use wood waste as fuel.

The experiment is of special importance at this time, because farm experts see a rise in corn production as the US becomes a greater source of food for the world.

The plant at Gilman is producing some 30 tons of wood ashes a day, which moves to Vermont farms in 15-ton truckloads.

This use of wood ash on the farms closes a conservation circle by first saving fuel oil for other than industrial consumption, then allowing use of wood waste as fuel and the ashes as fertilizer.

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